Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The floating bridge, providing an uneasy security above dark mysterious water, is a spatial metaphor for Jinny’s situation that holds together the thematic elements of this story. Related to this spatial metaphor is the motif of Jinny’s uneasy position in time. On this particular day, the doctor has told her that there is reason for cautious optimism, but this does not make Jinny feel better. Before, she was relatively sure of her future, knowing that she had little time. This new information forces her to go back and start the year all over again, removing a certain “low-grade freedom” from her life. The new knowledge has removed a “dull, protecting membrane” she did not even know was there and leaves her feeling raw and vulnerable. Since learning of her illness, she has felt a kind of “unspeakable excitement” that results when a disaster releases one from responsibility for her life. Now that is gone and a numb ennui remains.

Part of Jinny’s emotional turmoil at the time of the story stems from Neal’s excited reaction to Helen; he becomes more animated, enthusiastic, and ingratiating around her, as he often does around other people. Helen has a “fresh out-of-the-egg” look, and Jinny thinks that everything about her is right on the surface, which gives her an innocent and disagreeable power. Neal teases Helen, his whole being “invaded” with silly bliss. It is not that Neal desires Helen; rather, it is just that her innocence and simplicity seem a welcome relief from the complexity of Jinny’s situation.

The seventeen-year-old Ricky creates a similar reaction in Jinny. There is an innocent simplicity in his desire to show her the floating bridge where he takes his girlfriends. His kiss provides an innocent acceptance of her, regardless of her baldness and her illness. When Jinny is on the floating bridge, she imagines that the road is a floating ribbon of earth, underneath which is all water. After the kiss, Jinny thinks of Neal getting his fortune told, “rocking on the edge of his future,” and accepts the tentative nature of her own future, feeling a lighthearted compassion for Neal.